Laws of large numbers
The American Voter in 1932: Evidence from a Confidential Survey
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming
In 1932, the American electorate was surveyed in a poll that has languished in the archives. The survey was conducted by Houser Associates, a pioneer in market research. It interviewed face-to-face a representative cross section about voter choices and issue attitudes. Although conducted on behalf of the Hoover campaign, the poll was not biased in his favor. The most striking revelation is that the electoral sway of the Depression was quite limited. The government was not seen by most voters as the major culprit or as having been ineffective in alleviating it. Even many FDR voters agreed. Moreover, there was no widespread "doom and gloom" about the future. What loomed larger in 1932 was the issue of Prohibition. The American people overwhelmingly favored repeal. The Democratic stand on it - that is, outright repeal - was a sure electoral winner, given Hoover's staunch defense of Prohibition.
Does threatening their franchise make registered voters more likely to participate? Evidence from an aborted voter purge
Daniel Biggers & Daniel Smith
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming
Prior research predicts that election administration changes that increase voting costs should decrease participation, but it fails to consider that some interpret those changes as attacking their franchise. Drawing on psychological reactance theory, this study tests whether such perceived attacks might instead activate those citizens. It leverages the State of Florida's multi-stage effort in 2012 to purge suspected non-citizens from its voter rolls, comparing the voting rates of suspected non-citizens whose registration was and was not formally challenged by the state. Within-registrant difference-in-difference and matching analyses estimate a positive, significant participatory effect of being challenged, particularly for Hispanics (the vast majority of the sample). Placebo tests show that those challenged were no more likely than those not challenged to vote in previous elections.
Political machinery: Did robots swing the 2016 US presidential election?
Carl Benedikt Frey, Thor Berger & Chinchih Chen
Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Autumn 2018, Pages 418-442
Technological progress has created prosperity for mankind at large, yet it has always created winners and losers in the labour market. During the days of the British Industrial Revolution a sizeable share of the workforce was left worse off by almost any measure as it lost its jobs to technology. The result was a series of riots against machines. In similar fashion, robots have recently reduced employment and wages in US labour markets. Building on the intuition that voters who have lost out to technology are more likely to opt for radical political change, we examine if robots shaped the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. Pitching technology against a host of alternative explanations, including offshoring and trade exposure, we document that the support for Donald Trump was significantly higher in local labour markets more exposed to the adoption of robots. A counterfactual analysis based on our estimates shows that Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have swung in favour of Hillary Clinton if the exposure to robots had not increased in the immediate years leading up to the election, leaving the Democrats with a majority in the Electoral College.
How surprising was Trump's victory? Evaluations of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and a new poll aggregation model
Fred Wright & Alec Wright
Electoral Studies, August 2018, Pages 81-89
The U.S. presidential election results of 2016 surprised many poll-watchers, suggesting possible biases in estimated support for the major party candidates and posing a challenge for poll aggregation as a prediction tool. Using data from earlier elections and the 2016 campaign, we evaluated poll aggregation performance for the major prediction web sites. We found that a proportional bias, partly due to non-major party preference during polling, had a large impact on state-level estimates. A novel smoothing mixed effects model that is sensitive to both national and state-specific trends showed similar or superior performance to other aggregation methods over multiple elections. The improvement of the proposed model over competing methods was especially large in 2016, which we largely attribute to the late swing in voter support for the candidates, and suggests that the average bias in polling may be smaller than assumed. Simulations of electoral college outcomes indicate that, on the eve of the election, the probability of a Trump victory was about 47%. We suggest that an increased emphasis on fundamental statistical tradeoffs of bias and variance may be the key to further improved prediction.
Feminine-sounding names and electoral performance
Electoral Studies, October 2018, Pages 54-61
"[This] study examines the electoral success of major-party candidates in general elections to state legislatures in the United States from 2003 to 2010. Regression results suggest that candidates with names that are predominantly given to girls rather than boys capture a smaller share of the vote than do otherwise similar candidates with more ambiguous or masculine-typed names. This result holds for both men and women, suggesting that voters, in this context, tend to discriminate against those sending relatively female-seeming signals: it is not failure to conform to stereotypes so much as sounding like one is female that reduces vote share."
Public Campaign Financing, Candidate Socioeconomic Diversity, and Representational Inequality at the U.S. State Level: Evidence from Connecticut
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, forthcoming
Conventional wisdom holds that public campaign financing can diversify the socioeconomic makeup of candidate pools and, therefore, of U.S. elected officials, which could make U.S. public policy more responsive to lower socioeconomic status (SES) citizens. I argue that in addition to the absence of a positive relationship between public financing and candidate socioeconomic diversity, public financing, depending on the program design, may, in fact, reduce candidate socioeconomic diversity. Using occupational data on state legislative candidates in public financing state Connecticut and two paired control states to execute a difference in difference analysis, I demonstrate that when public financing is available, fewer low SES candidates run for state legislative office, and those who do run are not more likely to win and are less likely to utilize public financing.
Who Votes Without Identification? Using Affidavits from Michigan to Learn About the Potential Impact of Strict Photo Voter Identification Laws
Phoebe Henninger, Marc Meredith & Michael Morse
University of Michigan Working Paper, July 2018
It is still unknown how many citizens are prevented from voting by strict photo voter identification (ID) laws. This is in part because there is no administrative record of who is turned away from a polling place or, anticipating as much, never shows up at all. We solve this measurement problem by studying Michigan's non-strict photo voter ID law. Michigan voters are asked present photo ID, but, in contrast to strict states, are allowed to vote without photo ID after signing an affidavit. Collecting and coding the affidavits filed in the 2016 presidential election in a random sample of precincts allows us to observe those voters who both desired to vote and lacked the ID that would be necessary to vote in a strict ID state. We find a strict photo ID law would have disparate racial impact, but on a small effect size. About 0.6 percent, or 28,000, of voters lacked photo identification. Imputing race based on surname and place of residence, we find that non-white voters are between 2.5 and 6 times more likely that white votes to lack photo ID.
Sexual Disgust Trumps Pathogen Disgust in Predicting Voter Behavior During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Joseph Billingsley, Debra Lieberman & Joshua Tybur
Evolutionary Psychology, June 2018
Why is disgust sensitivity associated with socially conservative political views? Is it because socially conservative ideologies mitigate the risks of infectious disease, whether by promoting out-group avoidance or by reinforcing norms that sustain antipathogenic practices? Or might it be because socially conservative ideologies promote moral standards that advance a long-term, as opposed to a short-term, sexual strategy? Recent attempts to test these two explanations have yielded differing results and conflicting interpretations. Here, we contribute to the literature by examining the relationship between disgust sensitivity and political orientation, political party affiliation, and an often overlooked outcome - actual voter behavior. We focus on voter behavior and affiliation for the 2016 U.S. presidential election to determine whether pathogen or sexual disgust better predicts socially conservative ideology. Although many prominent aspects of Donald Trump's campaign - particularly his anti-foreign message - align with the pathogen-avoidance model of conservatism, we found that pathogen-related disgust sensitivity exerted no influence on political ideology, political party affiliation, or voter behavior, after controlling for sexual disgust sensitivity. In contrast, sexual disgust sensitivity was associated with increased odds of voting for Donald Trump versus each other major presidential candidate, as well as with increased odds of affiliating with the Republican versus the Democratic or Libertarian parties. In fact, for every unit increase in sexual disgust sensitivity, the odds of a participant voting for Trump versus Clinton increased by approximately 30%. It seems, then, that sexual disgust trumps pathogen disgust in predicting socially conservative voting behavior.
Why Women Win: Gender and Success in State Supreme Court Elections
American Politics Research, forthcoming
Although women remain underrepresented in U.S. elective office, female candidates have experienced similar or greater electoral success compared to their male counterparts. Research suggests both selection effects (the uniquely strong characteristics and qualifications of women who run for office) and selective candidacy (the decisions to run or not run for office based on the electoral context) contribute to this phenomenon. I leverage a large data set of candidate characteristics and electoral outcomes in state supreme court elections spanning 1990-2012 to clarify the causal mechanisms behind the electoral success of female candidates. I find that the success of female candidates in state supreme court elections is driven by the most capable women selectively running for open seats. I conclude that this phenomenon may be reflective of a broader gender gap in political ambition, with implications for tactics to improve gender representation in politics.
Using Big Data and Algorithms to Determine the Effect of Geographically Targeted Advertising on Vote Intention: Evidence From the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election
Tobias Konitzer et al.
Political Communication, forthcoming
We develop a new conceptualization of political advertising effects by looking at the effect of the marginal advertising dollar during the heat of presidential campaigns. We argue that in contrast to other studies investigating effects of political ads, our approach is more apt to capture the natural environment in which political ads are encountered during a presidential campaign. We focus on the intense inundation of political ads voters are confronted with in swing states in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, and argue that it is unclear a priori whether we should expect advertising to affect vote intention in that critical circumstance. We empirically validate this hypothesis using a trove of data from the 2012 campaign: daily polling in media markets around the country, detailed data on all registered voters in the country, all TV advertisements by market and exact airtime, and the entire Twitter corpus. We find that neither overall increases in advertising spending nor partisan imbalances in spending expanded the candidates' electorate. In fact, total Designated Market Area (DMA)-level spending significantly moderates a negative relationship between spending advantages and advantages in vote intention, suggesting a boomerang effect of additional spending late in the campaign. In closing, we discuss the ramifications of our findings for future research, and stress the importance of research tracking advertising effects.
The mobilizing and demobilizing effects of political TV ads: A midterm election study
Electoral Studies, August 2018, Pages 226-236
Does exposure to political TV ads affect voter turnout? And does the effect depend on whether the ads are positive or negative? Comparing areas that in 2014 were accidentally exposed to intense political advertising to areas that were not, we find that exposure to political commercials stimulates the electorate when the volume of negative ads is equivalent to the volume of positive ads. As the volume of negative ads increases, however, the effect of exposure on turnout significantly decreases and even reverses in sign. This research helps reconcile important debates in the literature, as it is the first aggregate-level study to find evidence consistent with the separate mobilizing and demobilizing effects of political advertising identified in laboratory experiments.
Cognitive Reflection and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Gordon Pennycook & David Rand
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming
We present a large exploratory study (N = 15,001) investigating the relationship between cognitive reflection and political affiliation, ideology, and voting in the 2016 Presidential Election. We find that Trump voters are less reflective than Clinton voters or third-party voters. However, much (although not all) of this difference was driven by Democrats who chose Trump. Among Republicans, conversely, Clinton and Trump voters were similar, whereas third-party voters were more reflective. Furthermore, although Democrats/liberals were somewhat more reflective than Republicans/conservatives overall, political moderates and nonvoters were least reflective, whereas libertarians were most reflective. Thus, beyond the previously theorized correlation between analytic thinking and liberalism, these data suggest three additional consequences of reflectiveness (or lack thereof) for political cognition: (a) facilitating political apathy versus engagement, (b) supporting the adoption of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, and (c) drawing individuals toward candidates who share their cognitive style and toward policy proposals that are intuitively compelling.
Presidential, But Not Prime Minister, Candidates With Lower Pitched Voices Stand a Better Chance of Winning the Election in Conservative Countries
Benjamin Banai et al.
Evolutionary Psychology, June 2018
Previous studies have shown that voters rely on sexually dimorphic traits that signal masculinity and dominance when they choose political leaders. For example, voters exert strong preferences for candidates with lower pitched voices because these candidates are perceived as stronger and more competent. Moreover, experimental studies demonstrate that conservative voters, more than liberals, prefer political candidates with traits that signal dominance, probably because conservatives are more likely to perceive the world as a threatening place and to be more attentive to dangerous and threatening contexts. In light of these findings, this study investigates whether country-level ideology influences the relationship between candidate voice pitch and electoral outcomes of real elections. Specifically, we collected voice pitch data for presidential and prime minister candidates, aggregate national ideology for the countries in which the candidates were nominated, and measures of electoral outcomes for 69 elections held across the world. In line with previous studies, we found that candidates with lower pitched voices received more votes and had greater likelihood of winning the elections. Furthermore, regression analysis revealed an interaction between candidate voice pitch, national ideology, and election type (presidential or parliamentary). That is, having a lower pitched voice was a particularly valuable asset for presidential candidates in conservative and right-leaning countries (in comparison to presidential candidates in liberal and left-leaning countries and parliamentary elections). We discuss the practical implications of these findings, and how they relate to existing research on candidates' voices, voting preferences, and democratic elections in general.
Homeownership and voter turnout in U.S. local elections
Journal of Housing Economics, September 2018, Pages 168-183
This paper provides evidence that economic self-interest associated with homeownership affects voter turnout in local elections in the United States. Compared to renters, homeowners are financially invested in their communities and are less mobile. Therefore, homeowners should care more about local policies and have incentives to engage actively in local politics. The disparity in political participation between homeowners and renters, however, should diminish in presidential elections for which policy discussions are more targeted at the national-level. These hypotheses are tested using census block group-level election panel data. Fixed effects models and a control function approach are used to identify the effect of homeownership on voter turnout in off-year mayoral elections relative to presidential elections. Results show that mayoral election voter turnout increases with the local homeownership rate. This suggests that local policies may tend to cater to the tastes of homeowners over renters.
Place-Based Imagery and Voter Evaluations: Experimental Evidence on the Politics of Place
Nicholas Jacobs & Kal Munis
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming
Prior research has shown that social identities defined by an attachment to place (i.e., "place-based" identities) are influential in shaping how citizens understand and think about political topics. Moreover, prior research has also argued that candidates sometimes use "place-based appeals" in order to win support among the electorate, and that such appeals are seemingly widespread. While past research has provided a rich understanding of what place-based identity and place-based appeals are, there is a large gap in what we know about the causal effects of such appeals. In this study, we address this gap by testing experimentally the effects of place-based appeals on voters' evaluation of candidate likeability and ability to understand their constituents, across the broader American patchwork. Using a set of modified campaign mailer advertisements, we alter whether respondents see an ad that uses rural or urban imagery when introducing a candidate. Our results indicate that, consistent with existing theory, place-based appeals are impactful in shaping political evaluations among rural voters, but do not appear as relevant for urban voters. Overall, we argue that place - or symbolically charged geographical sites - is a useful, widespread, and potentially powerful political heuristic.
Extreme Candidates as the Beneficent Spoiler? Range Effect in the Plurality Voting System
Austin Horng-En Wang & Fang-Yu Chen
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming
How does the entrance of radical candidates influence election results? Conventional wisdom suggests that extreme candidates merely split the votes. Based on the range effect theory in cognitive psychology, we hypothesize that the entrance of an extreme candidate reframes the endpoints of the ideological spectrum among available candidates, which makes the moderate one on the same side to be perceived by the voters as even more moderate. Through two survey experiments in the United States and Taiwan, we provide empirical support for range effect in the vote choice in the plurality system. The results imply that a mainstream party can, even without changing its own manifesto, benefit from the entrance of its radical counterpart; it explains why the mainstream party may choose cooperation strategically. Our findings also challenge the assumption in regression models that the perceived ideological positions of candidates are independent of each other.